Posts Tagged ‘forgiveness’

Perhaps any conversation about spiritual formation includes prayer. My personal prayer life has been influenced by my faith tradition. We have encouraged prayer while seated, while standing, and while kneeling. Prayer is encouraged as both an individual act and as a corporate act. Of course, sometimes prayer seems to break out unexpectedly and during unlikely activities. However it occurs, I hope to view my daily schedule as a context for prayer. While some space is specifically set aside for the purpose of prayer, I hope for prayer to become as natural as walking or breathing. Perhaps this is what the apostle had in mind when he writes to “pray without ceasing.”

It is not enough to carve space for prayer. Prayer itself is not the goal, but a tool to help us grow in God. An activity that often unexpectedly becomes prayer for me is reading. Sometimes this is the reading of scripture but not always. I often find myself in dialogue with an author and God becomes part of the conversation. Currently, my reading tends to include an assortment of theology, nature, and some classics. As I write, I am thinking that reading authors who are more contemplative might benefit me on my journey. I can benefit from those who have walked with God and have shared their experience about intimacy with the divine. I have already made plans to read more from Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, and Richard Rohr. I plan to acquaint myself with Dallas Willard and Richard Foster. I would also benefit from re visiting some of the works that have shaped my spiritual life in the past. I am intrigued that John Wesley in “Letter to a Friend” emphasizes reading as a means of nurturing the soul. “Whether you like it or not, read and pray daily… Do justice to your own soul; give it time and means to grow. Do not starve yourself any longer.”

Eugene Peterson suggests that we have been given an old prayer book known as Psalms. In fact, he claims these are the best tools for working on our faith. Just as a gardener picks up a rake or a hoe on the way to the vegetable garden, he claims people of faith should pick up the Psalms. I will read the Psalms multiple times in multiple translations during the coming year, all the while listening for the voice of God. I will be open to prayer in new ways by listening to these old prayers.

But my reading of scripture shall not be limited to the Psalms. I shall read from the whole canon.  I will read texts from the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. I will read the New Testament narratives and the Letters. I will read them to be caught up in the ongoing story of God. This is not only to strengthen preaching and exegesis, but to listen to the voice of God and find my role in that story. We have tendencies to try to fit God into our stories; it is time to start looking for ourselves in God’s story.

It is easy to become content driven, what J. K. A. Smith calls “brains on a stick.” It is even easy for worship to become a cognitive exercise. But, it is not enough to articulate a position; I want to taste the sweet word of God even when it leaves me with a sour stomach (Revelation 10.9-10). Systematic statements may smooth out some rough edges, but we are a people who live on the edge. We want to acknowledge the rough parts and embrace them as important parts of the story. I will listen to the biblical writers talk about walking with Jesus. I will read out loud in order to hear differently. I benefit when I read scripture not as a scavenger for practical purposes, but in order to listen for the voice of God.

This conversation about prayer is only a beginning. I desire that prayer become something more, something like Robert Mulholland once described “prayer is not what we do, it is what we be.” It is important to know that prayer is more about becoming than it is about getting. Again, I am reminded of Mulholland who said, “it is one thing to be in the world for God, it is quite another thing to be in God for the world.” The former seems so “activist” while the latter takes us into unknown territory. My prayer is that I will follow Jesus into the unknown whatever we find out there.


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The Shack has become a religious phenomenon. At the same time it is a lightning rod for claims of heresy. Even before the movie was released there were responses to the book titled Finding God in the Shack and Burning Down the Shack. You can probably tell which is for and which is not. Despite the potential of being burned at the stake, Layne and I attended the movie over the weekend. I had read the book a few years ago and tend to enjoy an imaginative narrative so I suspected that I would enjoy the movie as well. I don’t often say this, but I think I preferred the movie over the book.

The movie presents a theme of invitation that I particularly liked. Jesus invites Mack, the main character, to walk with him. The Spirit invites Mack to join her in the garden. “Papa” invites Mack to join the Trinity for a meal. I especially liked that scene where we see the Trinity at fellowship with one another. A picture of perichoresis. We do not often see good pictures of the Trinity at fellowship but here at least is an attempt. The general theme of the movie is an invitation to forgive.

Some highlights for me include the part where Jesus first arrived at the shack. I enjoyed the garden that was portrayed as a beautiful mess. That is, until we saw the view from above and realized it was actually a work of art. I enjoyed when Papa tells Jesus to show Mack some of his handiwork. I was expecting them to walk to the wood shop where Jesus had been working on something. Instead he took him outside showed him the sky, including a shooting star.

I like how the movie demonstrates the involvement of God in the lives of people. I suspect this is one reason many are attracted to the story. People want to have an encounter with God. The Shack presents a passionate God who is not without emotion. Here human pain is embraced by a deeply loving Trinity. Yet, I suppose one of the problems people are having with the movie is the way that God is portrayed. The Shack is an attempt to portray a story with imagination. Sometimes we forget that movies are a form of art (and a form of making profit). They are not intended for theological instruction. While theology may show itself in a movie, we should not be going to the theater to get our theology. Having said that, I like that The Shack reminds us that we have not got the Trinity figured out.

Here are some reasons to not see the movie;

  • You are certain you will like the book better
  • You think theaters are always too loud
  • You always wait for the blu ray

In other words, don’t stay away for theological reasons. I hope you never choose to go to the theater for theological reasons. Hollywood stinks at theology. If its theology you are looking for, read Barth’s Dogmatics. Go ahead and try to make a movie about Dogmatics. I doubt anyone would want to see it. But people are going to see The Shack which gives us an opportunity to talk about things we like to talk about with people who may not ordinarily be interested. I do like that The Shack is a catalyst for an important conversation.

The fact is, we want stories that speak to both head and heart. So when evil and forgiveness and the work of God are presented in The Shack it surprises me that some of us are not more interested. The criticism reminds me how much easier it is to criticize something we feel is wrong than it is to demonstrate something we believe is right.

Should The Shack be taken seriously – yes. Should The Shack be taken literally – no. Is it an exaggeration – yes. Will it prompt people to think and talk about God – yes.

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“Father Forgive Them…” (Luke 23.34)

We know how difficult forgiveness can be. It is often easier to not forgive than to forgive. I suspect we sometimes wish there a limit on things we are expected to forgive. We may wish that transgressions of a certain severity are optional as to whether we forgive them or not. Surely that would make navigating this difficult territory much easier.

Jesus does not draw a line or give permission to not forgive anything. If anything is beyond forgiveness, killing the Son of God might qualify. Still, from the cross, during his own execution, Luke tells us that Jesus says “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing. “ In fact, Luke suggests this is the first thing he said. Perhaps he wants us to know that this is more than an account about a Friday afternoon execution. We are about to witness the way God works. We are witnesses of grace. The drama of Good Friday is changed because of these words. This is a prayer that reaches into a corrupted world and changes everything.

This is just the radical sort of thing we have come to expect from Jesus. Perhaps we could interpret his statement something like this, “Before I am executed I want you to know I will not hold a grudge, I will not seek revenge, instead I forgive the organizers of this execution, I forgive those who will carry out the killing, I forgive all who mock and jeer and those who gamble for my clothes, I forgive you all.” This is the way Jesus is. Jesus does not keep score. Forgiveness may not be our natural move but it is always his next move.

Crowds called for his execution. Rulers and priests mocked him. Soldiers hit him. Still, Jesus prays that they will be forgiven. This is revolutionary. Yet this is what Jesus does. This is his move. If there were doubts before, we can be certain he meant it when he said we should forgive seventy times seven. We can be sure he was serious when he taught us to love our enemies. This forgiveness theme just will not stop. Jesus refuses to participate in the way the world does business. He refuses to play that game. Even from the cross, his next move is forgiveness. We are reminded that God is not saving all the good news for Easter Sunday.

Luke is writing for people removed from the ministry of Jesus, removed by geography and time. He writes for people who live outside the region where these things occurred. People who live years after these things took place. People like us. This is Good News no matter what side of the planet we live on and no matter what century we live in.

When reading this “word” from Jesus we can be sure God is serious about forgiveness and desires to forgive us. Yet, during Lent we also have in mind his desire that we follow him. Our text makes clear that following him means we do not have to carry around old hate or revenge strategies. God has no interest in these things. The cross makes it clear that there is a huge difference between the way the world works and the ways of God. We follow a God whose next move is always forgiveness.

Pastor Susan Vigliano adds the following prayer to this meditation: “Lord, would you show me the hidden places in my heart that are holding on to unforgiveness and bitterness? I know in my head that holding on to unforgiveness leads to death and I desire the life you offer. My heart still feels the pain. Please heal my heart and take my pain. You paid for the sin committed against me and for the sinful way in which I have held on to unforgiveness. I need you in order to forgive. I need your strength, power, love, and mercy to release this hurt into your hands. I am calling on you, Jesus and choosing your way that leads to life.”

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The Gospel of Matthew says that Jesus came preaching “The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Later he preaches a longer sermon that we call the Sermon on the Mount. It is also about the Kingdom of heaven. In fact, it is safe to say that Matthew has some kind of obsession with the Kingdom of heaven.

Early in that sermon we are told “heaven is the throne of God.” Later we are told to pray “Your Kingdom come… on earth as it is in heaven.” This prayer comes right in the middle of the sermon and we have already been told to take anger seriously, to be generous even with evil people, to make friends with our opponents, and to love our enemies. Now we are praying to be forgiven as we forgive others. We are getting an idea of what it is like for God to rule on earth as in heaven.

Gary W. Burnett labels this a prayer for revolutionaries. At the very least we should be willing to ask the question “what do we expect when we pray for Kingdom come?” After all we are praying for a kingdom different than the one ruled by Herods or Caesars or Pharaohs or Presidents. We are praying for a Kingdom ruled by God. We are praying for God to invade the land and challenge the rule of corrupted humans. We are praying for what God wants, not for humans to continue what they are already doing.

When we pray “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” we acknowledge that God is back in charge and rules through King Jesus. When we pray for Kingdom come we pray that we will live under the rule of King Jesus. When we pray for Kingdom come we acknowledge the certainty that the Kingdom is at hand.

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Two weeks ago, Dylan Roof attended bible study at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC and sat among other attenders for nearly an hour before he pulled out a gun and murdered Clementa, Susie, Tywanza, Sharonda, Cynthia, DePayne, Ethel, Myra, and Daniel. Two weeks may not be enough time for grief to pass, but it surely is plenty of time for the politics of this world to try to define what is happening here.

A lot of people are bringing their politics to Charleston. The tragedy has become a platform for debate. I suspect that some of these are speaking out in an effort to climb the ranks in this present kingdom. At the very least, they are utilizing the natural strategies of this kingdom.

Does anyone else feel like using this incident to broadcast one’s agenda minimizes what has happened here? Does anyone else feel like people are politicizing the pain of those who are grieving? Is this the time for special interests? Is there anything going on here that is more important than discussing the politics of a temporary kingdom that is on its way out?

The part that I hope we never forget is when family members of the deceased offered forgiveness to Dylann Roof. Instead of calling for revenge, they invited Dylann Roof to look for God. This is politics, just not politics as usual. This is not politics the way the world has come to understand politics. This is the politics of another Kingdom. These folks, broken-hearted and full of emotion, offered forgiveness.

The politics of Emanuel are far more interesting than the politics as usual of the present kingdom. Pain is not minimized. Those who suffer have a voice. And they choose to talk about forgiveness. This may surprise us or seem unimaginable. Is this any way to respond to a racist? A murderer? Still, this is the response of people who take seriously the words of their King. This is the response of people who are serious about a text that says “Love your enemies”, “Bless those who persecute you”, “Forgive as many as seventy times seven.”

I pray that the witness of these people challenges the rest of us to think differently of others and to react differently to tragedy. The best political strategies of the present kingdom will not save us. The best strategies this world has to offer cannot save us. But these people from Emanuel AME – these people are onto something.

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It is striking that at his own execution Jesus prays for his executioners.  The crowds called for him to be crucified.  Rulers and priests mocked him.  Soldiers hit him.  Still, Jesus prays they will be forgiven.  This is a radical word.  But this is what Jesus does.  This is his trademark move.  If there were doubts, we can now be certain that he meant it when he said we should forgive up to seventy times seven times.  We can be sure that he was serious when he taught us that we should love our enemies.  Even on the cross, his move is forgiveness.

The movement of Luke’s narrative is interesting.  Jesus’ first words from the cross are “Father forgive them…”  This is His trademark move, even on the cross.  However, it is not the natural move for others.  The rulers speak: “Let him save himself…”  The soldiers taunt him: “Save yourself!”  The first criminal speaks: “Save yourself and us!”  Jesus does not respond to any of these words.  But when the second criminal replies to the first criminal “Do you not even fear God…” and then speaks to Jesus “Remember me…”  Jesus speaks to him “Today you shall be with me in paradise.”  Three times, others hostile to Jesus tell him to save himself.  Instead, Jesus saves an undeserving criminal.

Luke is inviting us to participate on a journey. Throughout the Gospel we find that not everyone receives the news in the same way. Some are favorable to the Good News, others reject the same news. All the way to the cross we are faced with the question of how we will deal with this Jesus.  We are reminded that not everyone agreed with the kind of people Jesus spent time with. This one who “receives sinners and eats with them,” also dies with them and for them.  It is possible Jesus is crucified not because he claimed to save people, but because he would not stop saving the wrong people.

Luke wants us to know that political intervention is weak and short-lived in comparison to the intervention of God. In fact, these things appear to take place in order to halt the work of God in history. Instead, they become part of a series of events that are deemed powerless in comparison to the Gospel news.

Luke wants to make sure that we know Jesus continues his business of forgiveness.  This forgiveness theme of Luke just does not stop, not even while Jesus is dying.  There may be numerous implications.  But at the very least, we are reminded that Jesus keeps inviting the most unlikely people into his kingdom.  And we get a picture of the way that we ought to forgive others.

Without mentioning the word, this text teaches us something about grace. We are not exempt from its lessons. The crowds involved in crucifixion do not deserve grace.  The sympathetic criminal does not deserve grace. We learn much about grace from the crucified Jesus.  Not even a cross can stop him from his move “to seek and to save that which was lost.”

A Look at the Cross reminds us that God never stops forgiving.  This is what He does.  No matter how disappointing our behavior, no matter how undeserving, forgiveness is His next move.

Prayer of response by Susan Vigliano; “Father, I am overwhelmed by the power of your forgiveness.  There is no other way to the freedom of forgiveness than through the Cross of Christ.  Sometimes I find it difficult to receive the weight of your forgiveness in my own life.  When I try to forgive others in my own power, I fall woefully short.  I ask today for your power and grace to receive your forgiveness in deeper places of my heart.  I seek you today for your grace that I do not possess to forgive those who have hurt me and my loved ones.  I have called people a fool in my heart and I need your power and grace to turn to you for me to forgive them.”

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